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The end of the Shabat is marked by the ceremony of havdala. The word havdala literally means separation, and in this case it refers clearly to our leaving the Shabat, or better put, the Shabat's leaving of us. But in a deeper and far truer sense, the word havdala means a clearly marked sense of differentiation. One of the primary values of Judaism is the ability to separate and differentiate in this world. To treat things individually and uniquely is a Jewish trait. Judaism teaches that there is special unique time in this world. This time is called Shabat, Yom Tov. fast days, and days given over to remembrance and contemplation. Not every day is the same in human life or in the calendar of the year. One of the weaknesses of modern secular society is that Saturday is just like Tuesday. There is no special time in one's life and each week follows another with the drudgery of work, driving, shopping and tensions. The havdala ceremony at the conclusion of the Shabat allows a Jew to realize the difference between the holy time that is departing and helps ease one's way back into the harried, mundane world of our daily lives. We thank God for teaching us that there is a holy time, a special and unique time in our world. There are six days of labor and struggle but there is a seventh day of rest and comfort for our bodies and souls. The spoken part of the havdala ceremony reminds us of that truth.

Another part of the havdala ceremony is the smelling of a spice (usually, though not necessarily, cloves) or herbs, (again, usually but not necessarily, mint leaves) preceded by the blessing that the Lord has created the wide variety of spices and sweet smelling herbs that we are witness to in His world. Different reasons are advanced as to why this smelling of spices or herbs should be part of the havdala service. The most accepted reason is that this serves as a sort of "smelling salts" therapy for the faintness of soul that we feel when the extra measure of spirituality - the neshama yeteira - that the day of Shabat engendered within us departs. It is meant to revive our spirits as we face the week of labor that lies before us. The fragrance and sweetness of the spices and herbs also remind us of the sweetness and serenity of the Shabat experience that we have just passed through. It also serves as a reminder of the daily offering of incense, made of thirteen special spices, which was a part of the daily service in the Temple in Jerusalem. As with all ceremonies and customs in Jewish life, there are many and varied messages, both apparent and subliminal, involved in the smelling of the spices as part of the havdala ceremony. Judaism is a faith of many layers of understanding, laid one upon the other. The havdala ceremony is only one example of this truism.

The third part of the havdala ceremony deals with viewing one's hands and fingers by the light of a multi-wicked candle. This commemorates the creation of fire by Adam, original man, as the basis for all later progress in life and civilization. It also signifies the dedication of the work of our hands to noble and productive ends in the week to come. There is halachic authority that electric lights also can be used for this part of the ceremony. However, there is no doubt that the use of the multi-wicked candle with actual multi-colored fire burning in a darkened room is much more dramatic and memorable. Since we do not light new fires or turn on electricity on Shabat, the lighting of this candle also serves to remind us that the Shabat is over and that we have returned to the province of the six day workweek.

The havdala ceremony also states that there is a unique difference between the holy and the mundane, between the Shabat and the days of the week and also between Israel and the nations of the world. We are held to a special standard, to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. This is an especially important idea to remember as we embark on our workday week of commerce and labor. We are not only bidden to be a holy nation in the synagogue and study hall and not only on the Shabat but we are charged with that responsibility in the marketplace and factory as well. Therefore the halacha taught us that one should not even eat before first performing the havdala ceremony. For only havdala can guarantee that the rest of the week can retain some of the holiness and spirit that Shabat brought into our lives.

Berel Wein

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